Exploring Waterfalls at Yosemite

Exploring Waterfalls at Yosemite

One of Yosemite’s best-known features is its thousands of waterfalls. With so many waterfalls to look at, it can be difficult to know if you’re choosing the right one. Yosemite’s waterfalls come in all shapes and sizes with dramatic beauties that cascade water through the air or those that trickle down just a few feet.

Bridalveil Falls

Hiking near Bridalveil Falls.

HOW TO GET THERE: Bridalveil Falls can be seen from Wawona Road or Big Oak Flat Road. There’s also a half-mile (round-trip) trail to hike to the bottom of the falls. Careful: the trail is steep and can be muddy during the spring.
DETAILS: Bridalveil falls is named because it looks like a bride’s veil as it flows down.

Sentinel Falls

ACCESS: Easy to moderate
HOW TO GET THERE: Sentinel Falls can be seen from Southside Drive near the Sentinel Beach Picnic Area. You can also see Sentinel Fall from Leidig Meadow or while hiking the Yosemite Falls Trail.
DETAILS: Just like Yosemite Falls, Sentinel Falls comprises multiple drops. In total, the waterfall travels down 2,000 feet.

Vernal Fall

Vernal Fall is located off of the Merced River.

ACCESS: Easy to moderate
HOW TO GET THERE: Vernal Fall can be seen from Washburn Point and Glacier Point, both of which can be accessed by car. You can also hike to Vernal Fall via the Mist Trail, which is a 2.4-mile trail with 1,050-foot elevation gain. Mist Trail is a strenuous hike and is often covered in ice in early spring.
DETAILS: Vernal Fall plunges down 317 feet. From Glacier Point, you can see both Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall.

Chilnualna Falls

HOW TO GET THERE: The only way to see Chilnualna Falls is from the Chilnualna Falls trail. The first section of the trail is relatively easy and will give you views of the first section of the falls. The rest of the trail has steep inclines and is considered challenging. The trail is 8.4 miles long and has a 2,300 elevation gain.
DETAILS: Chilnualna Falls is made up of five waterfall tiers.

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall in Yosemite.

ACCESS: Easy to difficult
HOW TO GET THERE: Yosemite Falls can be seen from a number of viewpoints, including Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite Chapel, Sentinel Bridge, and Yosemite Valley Lodge. With just a short walk from Lower Yosemite Fall, you can reach the bottom of the falls. For those interested in a hike, there’s the Columbia Rock Trail (2 miles) and the Top of Yosemite Falls Trail (7.2 miles).
DETAILS: As one of the most photographed falls in Yosemite, it’s no wonder this is a must-see for most visitors. Yosemite Falls drops a total of 2,425 feet, making it the highest waterfall in North America. Catch it in just the right light and you might see its rainbow.

Illilouette Falls

ACCESS: Moderate
HOW TO GET THERE: Illilouette Falls is tough to spot from the road, but you might be able to catch a glimpse from Washburn Point. Hikers can see the entire fall from Panorama Trail.
DETAILS: Illilouette Falls is obscured from view by the Illilouette Creek Canyon.

Nevada Falls

Sunny day hike along Mist Trail.

ACCESS: Easy to difficult
HOW TO GET THERE: You can catch a glimpse of Nevada Falls in the distance from Glacier Point. Nevada Falls is past Vernal Fall along the Mist Trail, which is a strenuous hike. The John Muir Trail also leads to the top of the Nevada Falls.
DETAILS: Nevada Falls is all about the mist. This picturesque waterfall tumbles 594-feet.

Horsetail Fall

HOW TO GET THERE: You can catch views of Horsetail Fall from the El Capitan picnic area and turnouts east of the area. No hiking necessary.
DETAILS: For approximately 20 days each year, the sun lines up with Horsetail Fall at sunset so the falls glow orange like lava flowing down the side of the mountain.

Ribbon Falls

Ribbon Falls is located along the west side of El Capitan.

HOW TO GET THERE: You can spot this waterfall from Southside Drive, just as you enter Yosemite National Park. In fact, Ribbon Falls is across Yosemite Valley from Yosemite Falls and is often overlooked.
DETAILS: Ribbon Falls is a slender, delicate waterfall. While it may not be as robust as some of the other Yosemite waterfalls, it’s easy to access and is the longest, single-drop waterfall in North America.

Wapama Falls

ACCESS: Easy to moderate
HOW TO GET THERE: Visitors can catch a glimpse of Wapama Falls from the O’Shaughnessy Dam. There’s also the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir Trail which is 5 miles long and has a 200-foot elevation.
DETAILS: A hiker-favorite is to cross the bridge under the falls and cool off with spray from the falls. But, be warned: When the falls are at the fullest, the bridge can be submerged and should not be crossed.

Where to Stay in Yosemite: The Ahwahnee

The exterior of The Ahwahnee.

While you might spend your days roughing it in nature and see all the beauty she has to offer, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a good night’s sleep. The Ahwahnee is known for its lodge-like appearance and cozy interior design, it accentuates its natural surroundings. As a National Historic Landmark located within the borders of Yosemite National Park, there’s no more comfortable or more convenient place to stay when you’re visiting.

With a wide range of amenities, such as a gift shop featuring goods from local artisans, a heated swimming pool, and The Ahwahnee Dining Room, guests will have everything they could need.

Other Adventures in Yosemite

While the waterfalls could certainly take up your entire trip to Yosemite National Park, there are also plenty of other adventures to be had.

If you’re traveling to Yosemite National Park in the winter, you might have less waterfall viewing opportunities. Instead, strap on a pair of snowshoes and set off on a tour to enjoy your natural surroundings at a leisurely pace.

A family-friendly, wintertime activity is to go ice skating at Curry Village. The Curry Village Ice Rink is a full-size, outdoor rink. Nearby, you’ll also find outdoor fire pits where you can warm up with some hot chocolate and toast marshmallows.

One of the best ways to get around Yosemite Valley is to rent a bicycle at either the Curry Village or Yosemite Valley Lodge bike rental stations. There are more than 12 miles of mostly flat trails throughout the valley and bike parking is readily available. Small bikes and trailers are available for younger travelers, and ADA bicycles are also available to those who require them.

Yosemite National Park is home to some stunning natural wonders, including waterfalls. Each waterfall has its own unique beauty and story, so be sure to see as many of them as you can.

Other Things To Do